Last updated on July 12th, 2020
Brief Typhoon History Lesson
So, some of you may be wondering what exactly a typhoon is. Basically, if a tropical storm is strong enough, it gets classified as either a hurricane, typhoon, or tropical cyclone. What is the difference between the 3? The naming convention is determined based on which part of the ocean the formation starts in.
For example, the term “hurricane” is used for the Atlantic and northern Pacific Oceans. “Typhoon” is used for the northwestern Pacific Ocean. Lastly, the southern hemisphere and Indian Ocean use the term “cyclone.”
Why do they have different naming conventions for the same type of storm around the world? I have no idea whatsoever.
First Typhoon Encounter
Back in 2013, during my first week overseas ever, a typhoon made landfall over Taiwan. I thought to myself, “why do I bring a dark cloud everywhere I go?”
It turns out, typhoons are really common in Taiwan. Unlike the US, outside of certain areas without great infrastructure and on the East coast, many of the buildings in Taiwan are built to withstand typhoons, including Taipei 101.
Where we were located on the northwest in Zhongli, we were mostly safe from harm’s way as typhoons generally come from the East and must go through the mountains first. My study abroad roommates (Mohammed, Jon, and Paktra) and I stayed up late listening to the typhoon. The wind and rain were so strong that water was actually leaking through our balcony door. To combat this, we used towels at the base to soak up any water coming in at the base.
Outside of a little water coming through the balcony, it was actually pretty peaceful just chatting in the dorm room, listening to the howling wind and pounding rain.
When we woke up the next morning, all was calm & peaceful. As we walked through the area surrounding the university, we noticed very little damage outside of some branches here and there.
The next couple of years in Taiwan, I was introduced to a phenomenon known as typhoon parties.
It is very common for classes to be cancelled for multiple days due to typhoons, depending on the severity and speed. Both as a student and an English teacher, I remember getting together with roommates and friends and making the most out of bad weather and no classes.
The 4 key ingredients to enjoying yourself in the comfort of your home during a typhoon: safety, friends, food, and a whole lot of booze. Based on where I was located in Taiwan, I was never in any real danger, so as always, be safe, be smart, and if it’s possible where you are, have fun. Making lemonade out of lemons is something I always strive for because there is always some type of storm smacking me in the face.
Driving Through A Category 5 Typhoon & Living to Tell About It
All of my previous experiences with typhoons kind of made me put my guard down, which could have been a very costly mistake.
Here is some backstory. Mora & I were on a trip to southern Taiwan in the city of Kenting, home of some beautiful beaches, one of the largest and most popular night markets in Taiwan, and scenic views.
We were staying in a gorgeous bed and breakfast. While not the fanciest of places you can stay, the charm would be hard to beat. They have grills stationed outside with breathtaking views of the beach from up high. This was perfect for a lovely, romantic night for just the two of us.
Mora & I were having such a great time in Kenting until things took a nasty turn. The night before we were going to head back via train from Kenting (south Taiwan) to Zhongli (north Taiwan), we became aware of a shift in speed, strength, and track of a typhoon off the coast of Taiwan.
Instead of it being a weak typhoon that was not supposed to make landfall until after we were back home, it was going to be a category 5 typhoon and hit the next day, which caused us to frantically search for what to do.
The school I was working for as an English teacher cancelled classes, so I was fine to stay another day and let it blow over, but Mora’s workplace, Fitness Factory, was not allowing her to do the same.
This totally sucked because the place we were staying had vacancy for another night, so staying would have been the best & safest thing to do. But because we didn’t want Mora to get in trouble at work, we decided to find a way to make it back through the storm.
We were running out of options until finally, one of Mora’s coworkers said his friend was actually in Kenting also and was planning to drive back the following late afternoon. He lived in the area, so we thought we caught a lucky break.
This was cutting it close with how fast the typhoon was moving, but based on the speed at the time, I projected we could make it through before we crossed paths with it. Wrong.
In order to kill time until our ride was ready to pick us up, Mora & I visited the local aquarium, which was really great. However, as we were leaving, we couldn’t help but notice how insane the wind had gotten, which prompted me to check the weather forecast immediately. To our horror, the typhoon had sped up even more, and there was no possible way for us to make it across the entire island without going through the typhoon.
Within 15 minutes of us making this discovery, our ride showed up to take us home. Words cannot describe how afraid we were as we departed Kenting, based on what we knew lie ahead. We were going into the storm. We knew it wasn’t smart, and in hindsight, we would have definitely prioritized our safety over a job, but this is one of the dumb decisions we were fortunate to get away with unscathed.
For awhile, outside of heavy wind, everything seemed to be okay outside, which gave us a little hope. Maybe the forecast was wrong?
As we drove through Taichung in the center of Taiwan, our hope quickly turned into terror. The wind was actually moving our vehicle around; as this happened, Mora & I just gave each other a silent, knowing look in horror.
While on the interstate, we passed by a billboard hanging on its side just waiting to fall on some unsuspecting vehicle. We held our collective breaths for what felt like an eternity as we continued down the road.
Until finally, it stopped. As things slowed down, we stopped at a rest area to compose ourselves and catch our breaths. We had survived our foolish mistake. Never again will we allow anything to compromise our safety. So please, do not make the same mistake we did.
Do any of you have any hurricane, typhoon, or cyclone experiences you would like to share? Whether it’s good or bad, we would love to hear from you.
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